Trying to stay on top of health- and wellness-related news and events can be overwhelming. It’s a lot to digest (pun intended). We saved you the trouble. Here’s what happened in June and July, WellBe-style.
PARASITE OUTBREAK SPREADS THROUGH FAST FOOD RAW VEGGIES
What: Two separate outbreaks of the infection cyclosporiasis — one linked to McDonald’s, the other to Del Monte — ripped through the Midwest in July, afflicting hundreds of people.
The Details: According to the CDC, more than 200 people across four Midwestern states became infected with an intestinal parasite that was linked to eating vegetables from Fresh Del Monte Produce vegetable trays. It’s believed that most of these cases originated from a veggies & dip package purchased from convenience stores and gas stations. Just a week or so later, McDonald’s decided to stop serving salads at 3,000 restaurants in 14 states after the dish was linked to an outbreak of the same parasite.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? While generally not fatal, cyclosporiasis is definitely not a pleasant experience. It can cause a host of stomach-related illnesses, including nausea and diarrhea, as well as fever, fatigue, and body aches. Um, no thanks. Plus, as we know from many of the interviews we’ve filmed, parasites in the gut can lead to some serious long-term health problems. So it’s not just the acute awfulness that’s an issue!
The WellBe Takeaway: Gross. This is one of several outbreaks in the past few months from raw packaged vegetables. While it’s important to eat your greens, we believe it’s vital to know not only where your produce came from, but also how and when it was handled, which makes most pre-packaged veggie products big no-nos. Add to the equation the fact that cyclosporiasis is primarily spread through human fecal matter (yep, poop) by way of raw vegetables, and we think washing and bringing our own salads and cut veggies is a much safer way to go!
US OPPOSES BREASTFEEDING RESOLUTION AT WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY
What: At the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly in Geneva, the United States unexpectedly and aggressively opposed a resolution stating that mother’s milk is the healthiest for babies and encouraging countries to limit misleading marketing that says otherwise.
The Details: The resolution, based on decades of research into the health benefits of breastfeeding over baby formula, was expected to be passed without incident. The U.S., however, in a move that appeared to be motivated by close ties to the $70 billion baby formula industry, stepped up to oppose it. First, the U.S. sought to water down the resolution, removing language encouraging mothers to breastfeed; when that failed, they began threatening countries with economic consequences if they didn’t drop the resolution, which caused many poor African and Latin American countries to back off in fear of retaliation. In the end, Russia stepped in to sponsor the resolution, and the U.S. didn’t threaten them. This all comes at a time when the baby formula industry is facing plateauing sales as more women embrace breastfeeding.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Nearly four decades of research suggest that breastfeeding during a baby’s early life can protect against childhood infections, reduce instances of SIDS, and lower the risk of asthma, some allergies, type 2 diabetes, and even obesity. Breast milk is designed to transfer a mother’s unique microbiome (and thus her immune system!) to her child, hence why it is has a unique ability to protect against all sorts of infections, allergies, and autoimmune conditions.
The WellBe Takeaway: While every mother should make the choice that’s right for her, and nobody should feel shamed for that choice, we believe it’s essential that mothers everywhere have the information they need to make an informed decision and be encouraged by their doctors and government to breastfeed for as long as they can. This incident brings to light the ways in which corporate interests have real consequences for our health — and that of our children.
TWO GIANTS BANISH PLASTIC — BUT POLLUTION CONTINUES TO WREAK HAVOC
What: In the past months, Starbucks committed to completely eliminating plastic straws and Adidas promised to move to 100% recyclable plastics; but dwindling orca populations in the Northwest show us the dire health consequences of our current pollution crisis.
The Details: Amid rising consumer concern over the environmental impact of plastic straws, Starbucks announced that they will eliminate plastic straws from all of their 28,000 locations by 2020, replacing them with what are being called “adult sippy cups.” The move comes shortly after Seattle, where Starbucks is based, issued a plastic straw ban, and is part of Starbucks’ $10 million investment in creating compostable and recyclable cups. Adidas also jumped on the anti-plastic bandwagon, vowing to use only recyclable plastics by 2024. They hope that 41% of their 2019 spring/summer line will use recycled polyester, and estimate that the eventual elimination of “virgin plastic” will save 40 tons of plastic a year.
In the midst of these promising moves, however, there are still stark reminders of what we’re up against. For the past three years, no orca calves have been born in the Pacific Northwest, when there would normally have been 4-5 a year. While there are lots of threats against the killer whales, including the disappearance of Big King Salmon and increasing commercial vessel traffic, pollution — much of it likely from plastic and other chemicals that end up in the water — was cited as playing a big role in their disappearance. Boeing, for example, disclosed this spring that over the past five years it had discharged highly toxic PCBs into a river which flows into Puget Sound, thousands of times over the legal limit, the New York Times reported. The toxins can impede reproduction, hence why tests show a high number of the female orcas have miscarried.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? We should all be concerned about the damage being done to our environment by plastic, as our personal health is deeply related to the environment in which we live. Plus, plastic straws can do direct damage to your body, causing gas, bloating, and increased risk of cavities — and potentially leaking the chemical polypropylene into liquids, which releases a compound that can affect estrogen levels.
The WellBe Takeaway: While the moves from Starbucks and Adidas are promising — yay! Let’s celebrate the good news! — it’s important to remember that there’s still a long way to go and the daily reminders of the consequences for our health are serious. Global plastic use has increased 20-fold over the past 50 years, and is expected to double again in the next 20 years, so we’re doing our best to be aware of how we can help in the effort to reduce our plastic consumption. For us, that means purchasing reusable straws and water bottles, bringing our own bags to the grocery store and farmer’s market, storing our food in metal and glass containers, and looking for ways to decrease our overall plastic use every day.
MORE VITAMIN D LINKED TO A LOWER RISK OF BREAST CANCER
What: New research out of the University of California shows that increased vitamin D can lower the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
The Details: The study followed about 5,000 women total, all over 55, postmenopausal, and free of cancer. The randomized clinical trials tracked participants over four years, and the findings were quite clear: women with higher levels of vitamin D had one-fifth the risk of breast cancer as those with lower levels, even after adjusting for factors like age, BMI, and smoking habits. That’s actually pretty amazing! Though more research is needed to determine if the same thing can be applied to premenopausal women (and to those of different ethnic backgrounds, since most of the subjects were white), the initial findings are promising.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Besides giving you ammunition against breast cancer later in life, this research is also a reminder of the oft-neglected importance of vitamin D. There’s a widespread vitamin D deficiency, which is a big deal, because the so-called “sun vitamin” helps keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy as well as protecting against heart disease, stroke, and other kinds of cancer.
The WellBe Takeaway: In order to reach the threshold level at which researchers saw the benefits, you’d need to have vitamin D levels of at least 60 ng/ml — which is much higher than previous recommendations and the average American’s levels. While we’re definitely going to make sure we get moderate daily sun exposure, we also want to protect ourselves from the risks of too much sun (using safe sunscreen!). We believe that getting your vitamin D level tested by a functional or integrative doctor is the best first step. Then grab a supplement and get outside more. Adrienne has worked hard in the past few years to get her vitamin D levels up, and was worked this supplement into her daily (ok, near daily!) supplement program.
37% OF AMERICAN ADULTS TAKE MEDICATIONS WITH DEPRESSION AS A SIDE EFFECT
What: Recent findings show that more adults than ever take medications that list depression as a side effect, and that doing so is, in fact, associated with a heightened likelihood to experience depression. Seems like a pretty obvious correlation, right?
The Details: The study, which took place over five 2-year periods, followed about 26,000 adults who used medications with depression as a side effect, and tracked the medications they were taking and the incidence of depression. It included a wide cross-section of American adults, and accounted for factors like treatment by antidepressants and other psychological considerations. The findings showed that 37% of adults took medications with depression listed as a side effect in 2013/2014 (up from 35% in 2005/2006), and that this was associated with a higher rate of depression. This was most strongly the case for those taking three or more medications with depression listed as a side effect, who had a 15% prevalence of depression as compared to 7% for those taking only one of these drugs, and 4.7% for those not using any such medications. So yeah, the rate more than triples from taking zero to three of these drugs. Yikes.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Prescription medications are increasingly common in U.S. adults. Nearly every medication comes with a laundry list of side effects, so it’s easy to ignore them — this study shows how important it is to do extensive research before beginning any medication, and confirm that it is absolutely necessary to take. Here are some great questions to ask your doctor if you’re being prescribed something.
The WellBe Takeaway: Besides thoroughly reading the list of side effects of anything we’re taking (prescription or not!), we’re also taking stock of how many meds we’re putting into our body, and thinking about the possible ways they might be interacting with each other. It’s easy to get caught up in taking everything prescribed or recommended to you, so it’s important to step back and look at the big picture! Generally, we try to take nothing at all if we can help it, especially when it comes to medications with side effects.
FDA APPROVES FIRST-EVER CBD-DERIVED DRUG
What: The FDA has approved the first CBD-derived medication, intended to treat seizures. Cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, is a chemical compound that comes from marijuana or its close relative hemp. CBD does not get users high, unlike another compound from the marijuana plant, THC.
The Details: In three randomized, placebo-controlled studies, researchers found that a CBD-derived drug was more effective than a placebo in treating two rare seizure disorders. The two types of epilepsy in question are Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndrome, both of which can cause serious issues for sufferers: intellectual disabilities, motor skill impairment, language dysfunction, and tonic seizures. Given the gravity of these disorders, and the definitive findings from the study, the FDA approved the drug, Epidiolex, for use in treating seizures.
Not to get too into the weeds (see what we did there), but currently CBD is classified as a schedule 1 substance, i.e. an illegal drug, so it will need to be reclassified by the DEA before the drug can be made available for patients. This is the first ever FDA-approved drug that contains a substance derived from marijuana — again, a classified illegal drug. THAT’S A BIG DEAL! So wait let me get this straight…you’ve got one government agency (the DEA) still trying to restrict availability of CBD, while another (the FDA) has approved it as a medical treatment for rare and serious seizure disorders. Seems tricky for patients, right DEA? RIGHT?!
Why Does This Matter for My Health? This approval is a reminder that it’s important to use all resources available to us, and think outside the box, when it comes to treating conditions that seriously degrade one’s quality of life. This is also a reminder of what consumers, advocates, activists and patients can do when they fight for something. The CBD battle for seizure-sufferers has been long and arduous, but they finally got a big victory. Congrats, guys.
The WellBe Takeaway: As CBD becomes increasingly ubiquitous (in lattes! In eye creams! In smoothies!), we’ll be keeping an eye on the research. There’s definitely some promising stuff here, but as with anything new — especially something that comes from a plant with psychoactive properties — we’re exercising caution until extensive research has been conducted for a variety of conditions and symptoms.
STRESS MAY RAISE THE RISK OF AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE
What: New research suggests that exposure to stress might raise your risk of autoimmune disease (wait, it’s not the other way around?).
The Details: A study out of Sweden looked at the relationship between stress-related disorders and autoimmune disease, and found some pretty interesting results: a clinical diagnosis of a stress-related disorder was significantly associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease, raising the rate from 6.0 out of 1000 to 9.1, so over 50%. The term “stress-related disorder” is a big umbrella, but it covers such conditions as PTSD, acute stress reaction, and adjustment disorder, among others.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? I mean it makes sense, right, that being sick would be stressful, but now we’re seeing it could be the other way around! These findings remind us that stress doesn’t just make us crabby or anxious — it can have serious health consequences. From heart disease to digestive issues to ramping up the aging process, and now a heightened autoimmune risk, stress definitely qualifies as a toxin.
The WellBe Takeaway: We already do our best to prioritize mindfulness and meditation to try and stay sane in an insane world, but it’s tough, and we struggle like a lot of people to make the habits stick. This research is confirmation of how important our efforts are, especially if you have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions.
MARRIAGE IS GOOD FOR HEART HEALTH — AWWWW
What: A new study shows that people who are married appear to have a lower risk of heart disease. Guess marriage is literally good for your heart (sorry, had to).
The Details: The meta-study, published in the journal Heart, analyzed over 30 studies involving more than 2 million married people, looking at their marital status and risk for heart-related problems. The data showed that people who weren’t married had a 42% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 16% higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, as compared to married people.
Of course, the majority of one’s risk for heart disease — about 80% — is related to things like genetics and lifestyle, high blood pressure, or diabetes, but that remaining 20% can be influenced by other factors, and that’s where marriage might play a big role. It’s not known why marriage might lower the risk of heart disease, but it’s easy to speculate: a partner can notice changes in your health and encourage you to see a doctor; a spouse will be there to help if you experience a heart attack or other event; if both partners work, having two incomes can lead to more options for healthcare; and being married generally lowers stress (some might disagree lol), which is known to worsen heart health.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Heart disease is no joke: in the United States, one in four women die from heart disease. It’s easy to think of it as something that afflicts older, overweight men, but it doesn’t discriminate.
The WellBe Takeaway: While this study is heartwarming (just endless puns, we’re done, we promise!), we shouldn’t think that we’re risk-free if we’re married, or despair if we’re single. It’s important to step back and look at the elements of marriage that might lower risk — connecting with loved ones regularly, feeling supported, lowering stress, noticing and caring about your health changes — and work to integrate those into your life, regardless of your relationship status.
Other news worth noting:
Don’t have time to read this whole wrap-up? For the first time, we’ve made it into a podcast episode read to you by Adrienne! Enjoy listening to it while you commute, clean, walk, shop, work, or whatever — and don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review our podcast! It helps a lot.